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Making Wellness a Habit

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If you find yourself feeling stuck time and time again, unable to break the cycle of bad habits that get in your way–it’s probably because you haven’t done it right. You haven’t tailored your efforts to your needs, nor have you stopped to examine what it is that you really need. And luckily for you — that’s exactly what I’m going to teach you.

So where do we begin? Well, first of all, congratulate yourself for recognizing your desire to change. That’s the most important step. Next, recognize that you are designed to want to improve, and therefore the habits you decide to incorporate into your life should be habits that reflect the type of person you want to be. However, they should also represent the person that you are today. Your sociodemographics and your personality type play a huge role in determining what defines your wellness, so stop trying to squeeze yourself into something you don’t truly believe in.

“You can see why being vegan becomes part of people’s identity, too. If it was just about choosing not to eat any animal products, the diet would be extremely difficult to adhere to. But because it is a lifestyle and an ideology, vegans are willing to push through all that. They don’t see it as a choice, but rather as the right thing to do.” — Ryan Holiday

A lot of people think that because I am so passionate about wellness, I have everything put together. The reality is, I only engage in a select few wellness habits — including journaling, working out, and breathing exercises — depending on what my schedule looks like, what season it is, and so on. I don’t force things that aren’t in their place.

For example, I don’t meditate anymore. When I attempted to do so or when I skipped a day, I ended up creating more anxiety than if I didn’t in the first place. And I’m not worse off for it, because I shifted that habit into a different one: I engage in a daily meditative activity instead. Furthermore, I don’t force myself to do it if it doesn’t feel right–doing so would eventually cause me to give it up entirely out of hatred.

At the end of the day, all that matters is that the results average out. Not every habit needs to be an everyday thing and you don’t need a routine that is set in stone. In fact, you’ll benefit much more from a routine that is flexible.

As well as forming new, healthier habits, breaking habits can also be very difficult but is essential to our growth as individuals. Turning your life around means breaking the habit loops that do not compliment your wellbeing. Many of the habits we wish to break (excessive drinking, mindless snacking, etc.) exist to fulfill a deeper need. Alcoholics, for example, “rarely crave the feeling of being drunk — they crave the escape and relaxation having a drink (or 5) will provide”, says Duhigg. People who chew their nails until they rawly bleed don’t do so because they enjoy the taste — they do so because it redirects their stress towards something else.

The cues that trigger many of our bad habits indicate a deeper emotional lack. By simply providing someone with a list of healthy habits and tricks on how to adopt them, you won’t change why they turned towards the bad ones in the first place. The trick is to replace the toxic habit with an action that provides the same relief as the unhealthy one. For example, if you want to quit that extra glass of wine at dinnertime, find a routine that will satisfy the emotional craving that the alcohol truly fills.

As so well presented by James Clear in his 2018 release Atomic Habits, the most effective thing you can do when it comes to building better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal one. We are most influenced by the people around us, so regardless of the goals you set for yourself, if the system around you won’t help push you towards them, you won’t get anywhere.

“The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. The task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.” — James Clear

The next pillar of building sustainable habits is to cultivate intrinsic motivation. This is usually the step where things go awry. We have the external motivation: we want a fit body, we want the digits in our bank account to reflect our success, and we want the things that give us social approval or status. Intrinsic motivation, however, isn’t as easy to find. Meditation sounds appealing when we want to reduce our stress, for instance, but engaging in it because we feel we have no other option is nothing near motivating.

Working out because you enjoy it rather than to get rock hard abs is a perfect example of intrinsic motivation. The reward doesn’t matter. You just feel good doing it, and that’s all that counts. Over time, habits that are intrinsically motivated are the only ones that stick. You’re much more likely to enjoy reading if you’re intrinsically motivated to learn, as opposed to if you’re forced into your boss’ book club.

You can, however, use external motivation to your advantage. Kenneth Silverman, Ph.D., explains how creating some sort of reward calendar for yourself is highly helpful for habit building — especially if you know you respond well to incentives. Thousands of tracking apps are also designed for this purpose and relying on an accountability partner is just as powerful of a technique until you learn to rely solely on yourself.

Oftentimes, one of the most common pitfalls we face when building habits is overcomplexity. Feelings of boredom and frustration ensue when people try to adopt a habit that involves too many steps–leaving themselves feeling defeated as soon as they skip a day or don’t see it fully through. When you need to create new habits to start a habit, it’s no wonder you don’t progress!

Take journaling, for example. Journaling is a practice that is so straightforward and simple, yet for some, it’s impossible to upkeep. That’s because instead of using it as a rapid and effective tool to manage anxiety or boost productivity, people turn it into a 10-step process that they must repeat two times a day because that’s what they were led to believe is effective.

Neuroscience tells us that small accumulations build up in a big way. Instead of promising yourself to read more, try reading one page a day. A study by Benjamin Gardener called Making Health Habitual states that automaticity is readily achieved with simpler actions (such as drinking an extra bottle of water) than for more elaborate routines (such as getting up an hour earlier and doing a full-body workout.

Another great way to simplify habit building is to piggyback new habits on old ones. One of my favorite authors, Ryan Holiday, repeatedly explains how habits are buildable — meaning you can implement even better habits on top of your good ones. For example, if you’ve already built the habit of working out every other morning, why don’t you add five minutes of stretching?

Gardener confirms that after an average of 66 days, habit formation hits a plateau. This means the habit pathway is entirely ingrained, and you can easily build on it. Trying to do so within the first 66 days not only makes the task less desirable, but also more difficult.

“You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.”

-James Clear

Luckily for us, evolution is what we are made for. Our brain wants to build better habits, and our body wants us to maintain them — it’s how we optimize our wellbeing.

I know changing your habits can feel paralyzing, but don’t let it be. There is no right path nor a specific set of steps that guarantee success for each person. Know that change can happen when we approach it with open-mindedness, commitment, and self-confidence.

Hopefully, the most important thing you take away from this article is that you are a human being — not a human doing. There’s a lot of productivity advice out there that will certainly help you get more done, but what’s even more important is that you achieve your goals in a way that is healthy, balanced, and that sticks.

That, more than anything else, is how you’ll truly make your wellness a habit.

Article written by Mathilde Langevin

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Adrian Drew

Adrian Drew

Owner of Mind Cafe | Let’s chat on Instagram: @adriandrew__

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